Tag Archives: morphophonology

Imperial Messages VI – “… ang bidisaya arilinya itingley …”

This is the second half of the fifth posting in a series on the process of translating the short story “Eine kaiserliche Botschaft” by the Praguer writer Franz Kafka (*1883, †1924). The individual installments will go through the text mostly sentence by sentence, quoting from the German text as well as a translation of it into English. Following these quotations, I will discuss and comment on newly coined words and thoughts I had on grammar while doing the translation.

The text

This is a rather long sentence (though not the longest of the piece yet!), so I’ve split this passage into two parts. This is the second.

[…]; findet er Widerstand, zeigt er auf die Brust, wo das Zeichen der Sonne ist; er kommt auch leicht vorwärts, wie kein anderer. (Kafka 1994, 281:14–16)

[…]; every time he meets resistance he points to his breast, which bears the sign of the sun; and he moves forward easily, like no other. (Kafka 2011)

[…] – ang bidisaya arilinya itingley, ang mapaya ninaya hevenya yana sijya telbānley perin – saylingyāng kovaro naynay, ku-ranyāng palung.

Interlinear glossing


‘[…] if someone stood in his way, the messenger pointed at his chest on which the sun-sign was; he also got on easily, like nobody else.’

Notes on translation

“To meet resistance” is such a nice idiom, I almost wanted to steal it. Let’s not do that! The German text has finden ‘to find’ here (Kafka 1994, 281:14) instead of the more current treffen auf ‘to meet upon’. After some thinking I decided to use a phrase: Ang bidisaya arilinya itingley ‘If someone blocks the way’. This is also a nice parallel to the merengye bidis ‘obstructing walls’, which were mentioned earlier: just like the walls are torn down to clear the view and spread the word, the messenger overcomes resistance from individuals in the crowd to get the Message out to its recipient. A new word is sayling- ‘to progress’, which is from sayling ‘further’.

As far as morphophonology is concerned, the relative pronoun complex sijya ‘in/at/on which.LOC’ is interesting in so far as it is a contraction of *siyayaREL-LOC-LOC’ that I introduced here: the plural marker -ye combined with a case marker that begins with a vowel or -y, like e.g. -angAGT’, -asPAT’, -yamDAT’, already contracts to just -j-, as I described in an earlier blog posting of March 2011. The decision to do this with -yaya as well, but only if both parts are grammatical suffixes, is thus rather consequential. Since this feature does not occur in previous texts, let’s assume it’s an acceptable variant.

Of syntactic interest is the rather literary conditional construction without conjunctions in this passage, which is similar to the equally literary variant of conditional phrases used in the German text, although with a twist: unlike German, which inverts the order of subject and verb in this case (“findet er” instead of “er findet”, cf. Kafka 1994, 281:14), Ayeri does not change the word order, so the fact that it is a conditional clause must be inferred from context.

  • Kafka, Franz. “Eine kaiserliche Botschaft.” Drucke zu Lebzeiten. By Franz Kafka. Eds. Wolf Kittler et al. Frankfurt a. M.: S. Fischer, 1994. 280–82. Print.
  • ———. “A Message from the Emperor.” Trans. by Mark Harman. NYRblog. The New York Review of Books, 1 Jul. 2011. Web. 9 Feb. 2012. ‹http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2011/jul/01/message-emperor-new-translation›

Plurals with -yam and -ya

So on the front page we have that word layamayajam. It means ‘for the readers’ and is composed like this:

laya + maya + ye + yam
read + AGT NMLZ + PL + DAT
‘for the readers’

And layamayayeyam is also what I first had on the front page. What’s long bothered me, though, is the abundance of [j] and that these little buggers can pile up occasionally, leading to words that may be quite a bit tongue-twisting, or at least awkward to say. Test for yourself: [ˌla.ja.ma.ˈja.je.jɑm]. See? This screams for dissimilation (at least in my ears it does), or some other morphophonetic process of removing a pronunciation hurdle. So, what could we do? —

  1. Go by analogy with the locative case marker -ya. In combination with the plural marker -ye, it changes to -ea, so we get -ye-ya-yēa.

    ERGO: We can extend this to -ye-yam, leading to -yēam.

    PRO: This resembles my previous pronunciation habit of slurring /je.jɑm/ to something like /iːɑm/. It’s not perfectly phonemic spelling, but gets close.

    CONTRA: In a case like layamayayēam it’s still kind of awkward, I suppose. Also, -yēa and -yēam are pretty close.

  2. Go the route of dissimilation to the nearest similar-but-dissimilar-enough sound there is in the language.

    ERGO: [je] → [d͡ʒ] is a solution. We can do -ye-yam-jyam. As [d͡ʒjɑm] is a little difficult to say, and the [j] is barely there anyway, we can even go as far as mutating that further to just -jam. Thus, we get layamayajam.

    PRO: Easier to pronounce, also shorter. Also, more synchronic irregularity triggered by morphophonetic processes, oh yeah! Also, there is no ending -jam so far, so it can’t be confused. Also, it’s dissimilar from -yēa.

    CONTRA: -jam doesn’t really look like -yeyam anymore. Also, now I need to figure out how to deal with this in ‘native’ spelling. Probably not at all, because native spelling is more morphemic/phonemic than phonetic.

In the end I decided for the second option. Now I only need to write that down in the grammar. However, this decision also poses the question what to do with other combinations, e.g. -yeas (patient animate) and -yeang (agent animate). Should they become -jas and -jang, respectively? Should I then also retrofit -yēa (locative) to -ja? Hm …